What can the human individual achieve? And once they achieve it, what do they do with it?
Robert Swan recently gave a highly motivational presentation hosted by IHRR/Department of Geography at Durham University before being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science. He is mostly known as the first man to walk to the North and South Poles. Indeed, he certainly is this and much more. But Robert is the last person that believes in his own reputation projected by the mainstream media — ‘I’m not an explorer, I’m a pathetic traveller’ and instead is refreshingly pragmatic, not to mention tenacious — ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’. Robert has used his extraordinary experiences in the Arctic to help people understand how even some of the harshest and most physically unbearable parts of the world, such as Antarctica, are vulnerable to human influence. When Robert and his team crossed into Antarctica, he experienced the hole in the ozone layer firsthand before it was discovered by scientists. Due to the absence of ozone in that part of the Earth’s atmosphere, the raw intensity of radiation from the sun literally burned away both the skin and flesh off of Robert’s face and changed the colour of his eyes as the result of permanent eye damage. This is perhaps an example of how science and the experience of the human individual come together under dire circumstances, but nevertheless reveals the beginning of how one person can triumph over seemingly impossible odds to make a positive impact.
In Robert’s case, before he made his first intrepid journey he was told that more than likely he would fail or surely die. Since then, he has formed environmental campaigns to clean up the waste that was left in Antarctica as the result of past human negligence. Now he is focused on helping to wake up the world to harnessing renewable energy resources on a global scale. If humanity does not utilise renewable energy, such as sunlight, heat, wind, biomass and a host of other resources, we could be forced to commit a disaster much greater than the hole in the ozone layer. The Earth itself could experience catastrophic hazards that could lead to the end of our species and many others due to human-induced climate change. If one man, Robert Swan, can build a home in Antarctica, one of the most intolerable places to live on Earth, which is completely powered by renewable energy, why then is it so difficult for others in more livable conditions to do the same? Some of the greatest hazards we face are related to the energy problem, not to mention the recent disastrous aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The connection is obvious, if we continue to guzzle the Earth’s oil, oil companies will be looking to Antarctica and other large areas of wilderness that remain untouched by drilling and mining. It is for this reason that Robert Swan named his organisation ‘2041’ as this is the year when the moratorium for drilling and mining in the Antarctic Treaty is up for renewal. Maybe we can avoid the inevitably hazardous prospect of mining and drilling in Antarctica and embrace clean, renewable energy practices before it’s too late.
Robert Swan’s inspiring presentation given at Durham University will be available on this blog soon.
For information on his latest project, the International Antarctic Expedition for promoting renewable energy, go to: http://www.2041.com/